A paralegal who passed herself off as a barrister has been fined.

The suspicions of staff at Slough Magistrates’ Court were aroused when mum-of-two Clorissa Paynter presented her drug-driving client’s mitigation ‘rather poorly’, Oxford Magistrates’ Court was told.

The 31-year-old’s client, Sukhnam Khondhu, was fined and banned from the roads for 15 months, according to reports.

Defending, David Hicks said Paynter’s client was aware she was a paralegal and not a barrister. He had paid her £500 to draft a statement after being put in touch by Paynter’s former partner.

“This case is unfortunate. It comes from a nice place rather than a bad place,” Mr Hicks told the bench this afternoon.

Outlining the facts of the case, prosecutor Clare Barclay said Paynter was a paralegal at a probate firm – dealing with wills – and did not have ‘rights of audience’ to represent clients in court.

She went to Slough Magistrates’ Court on March 25, having been paid a £500 fee by Mr Khondhu.

Ms Barclay said: “She arrived with him, identified herself as counsel [a barrister] to security and an usher and, when called, the legal adviser asked her to identify her instructing solicitor and Ms Paynter said she was acting privately and confirmed she was under the direct access scheme.

“Evidently, Ms Paynter mitigated rather poorly from the defence lawyer’s bench, which aroused suspicion [from] the prosecutor and the legal adviser.”

Slough Observer:

Slough Magistrates' Court

She was hauled back into court after checks revealed she was not registered as a barrister. She admitted being a paralegal.

“Not only did she mislead the court about being a barrister she exercised rights of audience by addressing the court, which is a reserved legal activity,” the prosecutor said.

Only barristers, solicitors or those qualified to address the court can prosecute or defend. Non-legally trained people – known as ‘McKenzie friends’ – can sometimes speak on behalf of a defendant but need to be given permission to do so by a judge or magistrates.

Mitigating, David Hicks said Paynter’s actions had not come from a ‘bad place’. She had been hired privately by Mr Khondhu to draft ‘what she thought was a witness statement’ and spent a large amount of time on it.

The ‘criminality in the case’ was her wrongly telling court staff she was a direct access barrister – part of a scheme where members of the public can personally instruct a barrister without going through a firm of solicitors.

“In a police interview she realised at that point, having been put on the spot she answered incorrectly,” Mr Hicks said.

“Nobody has lost out financially in respect of this matter and the person she was representing has not been misled, which in my submission would be the most serious part of this offence.”

The defendant had lost her job at the probate firm and was now working at an estate agency. She was a single mother with two children and had no previous convictions.

Paynter, of Elmley Street, London, pleaded guilty to carrying on a reserved legal activity by introducing herself as counsel and representing a defendant who had paid for legal representation. An alternative charge of wilfully pretending to be a barrister was withdrawn by prosecutors.

Fining her £369 and ordering she pay £122 in costs and surcharge, chairman of the bench Yvette Hutchinson said: “You now leave with a conviction for this offence.”

Slough Observer:

Clorissa Paynter leaves Oxford Magistrates' Court

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